I hear that Patric Verrone is nuts. Is he?Link.
No. It turns out that Patric Verrone is quite sane. The WGA brought in doctors from the Mayo Clinic to certify him, and they all left liking him very much, especially the women who found him "dreamy." You and all those you hear from are confusing him with Patrick Valona, who was considered insane in 1843 for believing that fish created the combustible engine. Or perhaps, you are just hearing a smear campaign started by the AMPTP corporations, trying to create dissension within the WGA. Patric Verrone is rational enough to have graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, be on the law review at Boston College and teach law. Of course, his move from that to writing cartoons did get his parents concerned, though when he started giving them really nice gifts, they relented. Some people think him odd because he always wears a business suit in Hollywood, but it turns out that he just has good fashion sense. And looks bad in t-shirts.
I hear that the WGA negotiating strategy is all wrong. Isn't it?
And you would do it differently how?
Well, er, I hear the WGA should bring in new negotiators who could make a deal. Shouldn't they?
If you brought in the Secretary General of the United Nations, even he couldn't make a deal right now, because the AMPTP corporations have walked away from the table. It's a well-accepted fact that it's almost impossible to make a deal with someone who isn't there. The only known case where this has occurred was a tribe in Kenya that communicates by telepathy. However, it completely misunderstood the other side, and got screwed royally, many times over. In the end, the AMPTP corporations using their CIA contacts came in, bought the village and threw the residents out.
I hear the WGA should never have added Animation and Reality to their demands. Wasn't that a bad thing to do?
In fact, they have always been on the table. As in "always." Even before the strike. The AMPTP corporations never minded them then. Only many weeks later, when they decided to try and divide the writers did they suddenly jump up, "O'm'god, look, there are these six issues that we hate, and two are Animation and Reality TV! We demand you remove these, or we will never, ever continue negotiating with you at all, ever." These are not strike issues - but they are very important to some people. ("Some people" is defined as - "people who write Animation and Reality TV.") But important as they are, the Writers Guild will not strike over them. If the AMPTP corporations made a fair offer on New Media tomorrow and left out Animation and Reality TV...the strike would be over tomorrow. It's a non-issue.
I hear that the directors are more mature than writers, which is why the AMPTP corporations are negotiating with them?
Some people believe that third-graders are more mature than writers, but it only appears that way because writers rarely see daylight or other humans very often. The AMPTP corporations are negotiating with directors because it's what they've wanted to do since Day One. You see, directors hate striking for anything. In their entire history, they have struck once, for five minutes. Literally. Actually, it was more a clerical error. How far will directors go to avoid striking, even for something worthwhile? In 1984, Gil Cates negotiated the royalties for home video down by 80 percent, to the whopping 4 cents that artists get today. If you were the AMPTP, who would you rather negotiate with? The WGA was a nuisance that had to be tolerated until the directors were finally available. But now, writers have created so much attention about New Media that even the DGA knows it can get something good, if it tries.
I hear that all writers are rich. Aren't they?
You probably hear this from AMPTP corporate CEOs who make $25 million a year, right? Boy, do I wish you were right about this one. Alas, half the WGA writers in any given year earn no income writing, which tends to defeat the purpose of richdom. The median income of WGA members is about $62,000. But then, the median income between me and Peter Chernin of News Corp., who earned $34 million last year, is just over $17 million. The handful of writers at the very top of their profession are rich. The handful of people at the very top of any profession are rich. The 97% of other writers, they fall into the, "Okay, who ordered the tuna fish sandwich? You owe..." category.
I hear that the studios and networks say they don't make any money from the Internet. Why should they pay writers for it?
Studios and networks also say they don't make any money from TV and movies. According to studios and networks, they all went bankrupt 24 years ago and have been completely out of business since 1987. CBS today makes athletic shoes. Paramount runs a chain of muffler shops. Neither, they say, make a profit. By the way, if you had wandered through the recent Consumer Electronics Show, you would have understood how massive a galvanizing profit these companies (and countless other companies) make from the Internet - right now. It's dizzying. Moreover, if you really want to scare AMPTP companies, say this to them: "I hear you make even more money from "metadata" than almost anything." They'll quickly turn and run. Simply, metadata is the data embedded in New Media. Companies make huge money selling their metadata. (The amount is technically known as "oodles." ) Let's put it this way - how do you think Google became a multi-billion dollar company with a product line they give away for free. Selling metadata. When figuring profit from New Media and the Internet, it counts. No profit from the Internet. Ha, good one.
I hear the AMPTP corporations wanted a strike. Is that true?
If they did, I wouldn't suggest that they promote the fact. There are, of course, some financial advantages to a company during a strike. For instance, they save a lot on parking attendants. Also, they get to fire people and call it "belt tightening." And can drop the really bad deals they made. On the downside, they have to give back several billion dollars in ad revenue to their advertisers because ratings go down. The optimist calls this a wash. The pessimist calls it taking a bath. Either way, they get soaked.
I hear that when...
Sorry, let me interrupt you a moment. You seem to hear really wrong things. Here's a rule of thumb. If you "hear" something, assume it's wrong. If you have a relative who works in the entertainment industry, and he or she tells you something they've heard, assume it's wrong. If you read it in an online blog or column from someone who "heard" something from a reliable source, assume it's wrong. At a certain point, when there is actual news, you will know.
Why do writers deserve residuals? Didn't former MCA head Lew Wasserman once say he wished he got a dollar every time he flushed his toilet?
If Lew Wasserman could have gotten 10 million people to watch him flush his toilet, he would have deserved that dollar. You misunderstand what residuals are. Residuals are not a bonus. Residuals are delayed compensation for promised income. Here's what that means - a script has a high value, but companies cannot pay that amount up front, it's too expensive. So, they reach a contractual agreement with writers: we'll pay you much less than your script is worth so that we can make the show, and then if it's successful and gets shown again and we make additional money, you'll get a small percentage of that, to make up for what you didn't get paid at the beginning. And both sides agree to that. Contractually. People grasp that novelists get paid each time a book they created is sold, that playwrights get paid each time the drama they created is performed, that recording artists get paid each time the CD they created is sold - it's the same for TV and film writers.
No offense, but you make me sick. Why should anyone in the entertainment industry support the WGA striking?
No offense taken. Okay, here's the deal: the AMPTP corporations offered writers zero for original New Media content, zero for New Media streaming, and zero for New Media downloading. Where do you think all future content will go? Good guess! Zero would destroy the Writers Guild, and it would set the pattern for bargaining with the actors and directors. Which would destroy them, as well. And for all other unions - who think they don't have a stake in this - their health and pension benefits are directly determined by what the residual rates are. ("Residuals," remember them?) So, the more writers get for residuals, the higher health and pension are for everyone. Yes, writers are annoying and strike all the time, but every time they strike, it benefits everyone. Most of the benefits you now enjoy, it's because the annoying writers struck for them.
Wow, sorry about the "You make me sick" crack. Why didn't you say this before?
I think TV and movies stink, so I'm glad writers are on strike. Why should I care?
You shouldn't. Read a book. Read a newspaper. Play some hoops. Keep in mind, if you don't like what a network is showing, it was a studio executive who decided what should be put on - and then, without any creative experience, sent notes to the writers telling them how to change it. For those of you who actually watch TV and movies, and have obviously found things you like - isn't it nice that there are writers who are able to overcome the hurdles and turn out such enjoyable, involving, funny, dramatic stories? But ultimately...y'know, you have your own lives to lead. Care about whatever you want that's important to you. That's America. This happens to be important to writers. And to actors. And whoever works in Hollywood, which is perhaps America's biggest, most influential export to the world, America's public face to every corner of the globe. It's your choice if you want to support America, the land of the free, the home of the brave, from sea to shining sea.
Do you know Jessica Alba?
Saturday, January 12, 2008
The Reaganites, I always thought, wanted to turn America into a so-called banana republic, at least insofar as being ruled by and for an elite -- you know, no more of this "Of the people" stuff.
Our Leaders, of course, believe that as well, but this is even lower....
The nine-hour drive was only the physical distance traveled by the two emissaries from rural Taylor County, nestled in the crook where Florida bends around the Gulf. Those 405 miles were nothing compared to the cultural gap they found in Miramar.Link.
Oscar Howard Jr., superintendent of Taylor County's School District, and Danny Lundy, vice chairman of the School Board, spoke in accents from that other Florida. "We're opposed to teaching evolution as a fact," Howard said, adding that his School Board and 11 others have passed resolutions against the imposition of evolution in the school curriculum.
Evolution, Lundy warned, would tear the Taylor public schools apart. "The good people back home," he worried, would have no choice but to pull their kids out of school.
Others attending the hearing on reviving the state of education's science standards Tuesday denounced this notion of teaching evolution, some evoking an evangelical language that hardly translated on the other side of the divide. A woman talked about God and miracles and friends brought back from death and how biblical faith, not evolution, revealed the only answers to life's mysteries.
When geologist Ina B. Alterman, formerly of the National Research Council, came to the microphone to defend science, evolution and freedom from religious interference in education, it was as if she were speaking another language. She and her allies -- scientists, teachers, parents -- offered reasoned arguments for teaching evolution that would seem to overwhelm any science-based opposition. Hers was a majority position at the Miramar hearing. Oscar Howard Jr. said that up in Perry, anti-evolutionists would have made up 80 percent of the crowd.
Mindful of attitudes in that other Florida, Boca Raton physician Tom Hall warned of the legal costs incurred by a quixotic, unconstitutional attempt by the Dover, Penn., School Board to teach faith-based Intelligent Design. But a Miami paramedic warned that taking God out of the classroom has led to immorality and violence. He related the beating death last week of a toddler by a 12-year-old in Lauderhill to the teaching of evolution. An unfathomable leap in logic on one side of the divide. An understandable leap of faith on the other.
LET KIDS DECIDE?
Even the word theory, this night, suffered irreconcilable definitions. Darwin's theory, up in Taylor County, population 20,000, only rates the pedestrian meaning: unproven speculation. Scientists speaking Tuesday night, one after another, reminded the audience that scientifically, the theory of evolution was no more speculative than the theory of gravity. This theory, they said, formed the basis for all biological science, girded by 156 years of research. Some who doubted Darwin suggested a populist solution. Teach all theories of creation. Let the kids decide. As if biology were as subjective as philosophy.
More arguments and counter-arguments about faith and evolution were launched into a vacuum of irreconcilable beliefs. Then, the final speaker, Lisa Dizengoff, director of science curriculum at Pembroke Pines Charter School's east campus, angrily reminded the crowd that after all the carping over evolution, no one had gotten around to addressing the state's lackadaisical, last-century approach to science education.
"All I heard was this argument about evolution," she said, disgusted that so many other problems had been preempted by a single controversy.
"The kids lost out again."
Friday, January 11, 2008
In June, the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health acknowledged "daunting and growing" psychological problems among our troops: Nearly 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines and half of National Guard members are presenting with serious mental health issues. They also reported "fundamental weaknesses" in the U.S. military's approach to psychological health. That report was followed in August by the Army Suicide Event Report (ASER), which reported that 2006 saw the highest rate of military suicides in 26 years. And last month, CBS News reported that, based on its own extensive research, over 6,250 American veterans took their own lives in 2005 alone -- that works out to a little more than 17 suicides every day.[more]
That's all pretty bleak, but there is reason for optimism in the long-overdue attention being paid to the emotional and psychic cost of these new wars. The shrill hypocrisy of an administration that has decked itself in yellow ribbons and mandatory lapel pins while ignoring a human crisis of monumental proportion is finally being exposed.
On Dec. 12, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called a hearing on "Stopping Suicides: Mental Health Challenges Within the Department of Veterans Affairs." At that hearing suggestions were raised and conversations begun that hopefully will bear fruit.
But I find myself extremely anxious in the face of some of these new suggestions, specifically what is being called the Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007 and use of the drug propranalol to treat the symptoms of posttraumatic stress injuries. Though both, at least in theory, sound entirely reasonable, even desirable, in the wrong hands, under the wrong leadership, they could make the sci-fi fantasies of Blade Runner seem prescient.
The Psychological Kevlar Act "directs the secretary of defense to develop and implement a plan to incorporate preventive and early-intervention measures, practices or procedures that reduce the likelihood that personnel in combat will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other stress-related psychopathologies, including substance use conditions. (Kevlar, a DuPont fiber, is an essential component of U.S. military helmets and bullet-proof vests advertised to be "five times stronger than steel.") The stated purpose of this legislation is to make American soldiers less vulnerable to the combat stressors that so often result in psychic injuries.
"Multiple indications of vote fraud are beginning to pop up regarding the New Hampshire primary elections. Roughly 80% of New Hampshire precincts use Diebold machines, while the remaining 20% are hand counted. A Black Box Voting contributor has compiled a chart of results from hand counted precincts vs. results from machine counted precincts. In machine counted precincts, Clinton beat Obama by almost 5%. In hand counted precincts, Obama beat Clinton by over 4%, which closely matches the scientific polls that were conducted leading up to the election. Another issue is the Republican results from Sutton precinct. The final results showed Ron Paul with 0 votes in Sutton. The next day a Ron Paul supporter came forward claiming that both she and several of her family members had voted for Ron Paul in Sutton. Black Box Voting reports that after being asked about the discrepancy Sutton officials decided that Ron Paul actually received 31 votes in Sutton, but they were left off of the tally sheet due to 'human error.'"Link with links.
The frustration of proving one's age to buy things like alcohol and tobacco does not end when you reach the appropriate legal age. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a youthful appearance are forever burdened with having to carry a state-issued ID card to every place where we might want to buy alcohol or tobacco. Over the past few years, we've been gradually subjected to another, more intrusive ID-related hassle -- that of electronic drivers license scanning. It's one thing when a government representative scans your driver's license; it's another thing entirely when a restaurant does it, and records your personal information in the process. Is this legal? Ethical? Secure? In order to find out, I contacted an electronic security and privacy expert, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The incident at Houstons
It was August of 2006, and I decided to take my girlfriend out to a nice dinner. She's particularly fond of the veggie burger at Houstons, a regional restaurant chain owned and operated by the Los Angeles-based Hillstone Restaurant Group, which also controls the Gulfstream, Bandera, Rutherford Grill, Palm Beach Grill, Cherry Creek Grill, Los Altos Grill, and Cafe R&D restaurants.
We sat down and ordered drinks. I was, of course, asked for my driver's license, which I presented to the waitress. My girlfriend was not asked for her ID, which she found somewhat insulting, being that she is of an age to be insulted by the assumption that she looks over 30. The waitress thanked me for handing over my Florida driver's license, then hurried away before I could both recognize the fact that she'd walked off with my ID, and organize some kind of protest. She returned a few minutes later with our drinks, and handed me my ID card. "Why did you need to take my license?" I asked. "Oh, we had to verify it," she replied. "Out of curiosity, what do you do to verify it?" "We scan it through a machine that makes sure it's real," she said cheerfully.
I was totally shocked and really upset that my driver's license was just scanned without my consent, so I asked the speak with the manager. Not only was he clueless as to the license scanner's method of operation -- he insisted that it was for my own protection, which is as bizarre a statement as I can imagine -- but during the course of our heated and repetitive conversation he tried to flirt with my girlfriend to get her on his side, against me. I wrote a letter to an executive at Hillstone to complain about the situation on both levels, and a few days later I got a call from Robert Hardie, a regional vice president at Hillstone. The first thing he did was apologize for the manager's behavior; I responded by thanking him for the effort, but that the only appropriate apology for the situation would come in writing from the manager I dealt with, not a proxy. This was the only remedy I was interested in, because I felt more insulted at the manager's behavior than I did about anything else -- I already wasn't going to eat at Houstons ever again because of the license scanning issue, but I wanted the situation to be made right. I was told that a written apology from the restaurant manager was not an option available to me. The second thing Hardie told me was that serving alcohol was a privilege, not a right, and that Hillstone implemented the license scanning procedure to protect customers from false IDs. I told him outright that what he'd just said was ridiculous because my safety and security were not at risk until my license was confiscated and scanned by the waitress, effectively putting me at risk instead of removing some imaginary risk. I asked him to explain how I could possibly benefit from his license scanning scheme. The answer was that it protects people under the age of 21 from drinking alcohol, which has benefits that are supposed to be obvious to me, and as a side effect it protects the restaurant from underage drinking sting operations. "Aha," I said, "So it does not protect me, it protects you." He agreed reluctantly. Hardie further stated that he would make sure the manager I dealt with was reprimanded accordingly, but he was more concerned that the manager did not know all of the appropriate technical details of the scanning machine than he was about the man's behavior toward my girlfriend. Before our conversation was over, Hardie provided me with the exact make and model of the license scanning machine Hillstone-controlled restaurants used -- an IntelliCheck IDC1400. This model is no longer in production, but there are many like it showcased on the IntelliCheck home page.
Last week we decided to see if the restaurant had changed its policies, and reserved a table at Houstons. Again, the waitress tried to walk away with my license, but this time I stopped her and told her that under no circumstances was it to be scanned. "Look at it, test it with a blacklight, call the motor vehicles bureau, whatever -- you are not allowed to record that card electronically," I insisted. I then provided her with a second form of government issued photo ID that did not have a bar code or magnetic strip -- a concealed weapons permit. "That's two forms of government-issued photo ID -- that should be enough," I told her. She said she'd have to talk to the manager about it. It was a different manager this time, but instead of being condescending like the previous one, this manager was confrontational and aggressive. He asked what the problem was with license scanning. I told him what I've related here for the most part, adding that I'd researched the machine he was using and discovered that it was designed to record drivers license data. I would not permit this. "Then we don't serve you," he said indignantly. I told him that I was the only person at a table of 4 people who was asked for ID, and that this was not only insulting and belittling towards me, but that because of the waitress' inability to approximate my age, I had to forfeit the privacy of my driver's license information. This caused a rather explosive confrontation that prompted us to leave and relocate to a different restaurant. Was I right to disagree with this policy? Was I being paranoid, or was I just upset that at 29 I was still being asked for my license by some waitress who was not only substantially younger than me, but might actually not have been of legal age to serve me alcohol?
The security of license scanners
My first concern was the security of the data being collected from my driver's license. To better understand the risk in this situation, I contacted security expert Bruce Schneier. In addition to his blog, Schneier is also the author of 8 security-oriented books, including Beyond Fear, and many essays on cryptography, and security and privacy in the information age. The first thing I wanted to know was, of course, if civilians scanning state-issued drivers licenses constituted a dangerous and insecure situation. "The situation with hackers -- can the data be intercepted, can the database be hacked -- is scary, but it's not really a realistic threat when you consider the other information available to them, like credit card numbers and social security numbers," he replied. "This is just yet another database of information on you."
There isn't a lot someone can do with your driver's license number -- it's not nearly as important as a social security number, unless you live in a state like Arizona which uses your SSN as your driver's license number. SSNs are important to identity thieves, so electronic scanning of driver's licenses puts bar and restaurant customers at a hightened risk for identity theft. But if you have a non-SSN driver's license number, the data is not particularly important to thieves and other people with nefarious intent. What other threats would collecting this information pose? "Would you like a list of every bar you've visited to be posted on the Internet? How about marketing -- would you like to receive more of that? This data is sold to ChoicePoint and combined with other data about you and sold to a wide variety of companies for marketing." He went on to explore the idea of how this might be used in the future: "Let's say I had a bar -- I could offer a drink special for 10% off if you agree to let me sell your drinking data to Bacardi. There's nothing wrong with that because as the bar owner, I'd be telling you about it upfront and you'd have to agree to it. But to do this without notifying people, by collecting data through age verification, is kind of sleazy."
Indeed it is. I was not told that my license would be scanned, that my data would be collected and transmitted over a public network to some unknown corporation that has access to information that I thought was private between the state of Florida and me. The waitress took my license, walked away with it, and came back with my drink and the license. It wasn't until I questioned her that I found out that it was scanned. I told her that I did not give her permission to scan my license, but she thought I was joking with her. So now somebody somewhere has a record of my buying alcohol -- or more specifically, being carded for attempting or intending to buy it -- along with my name, address, height, eye and hair color, driver's license number, date of birth, the status of my eyesight, the classes of vehicles I am authorized to drive, and possibly also my photo and a copy of my signature.
"The record of your drinking habits could be used in court as evidence -- for instance, in a divorce case if your wife accuses you of being an alcoholic. A record like this could be used, but this kind of thing happens all the time in our society. Do you have some kind of toll booth pass, like EZ-Pass? Data from EZ-Pass usage has been used in divorce cases.. Every time you use a credit card, there's a record of the purchase and where it occurred. Your cell phone's whereabouts can also be tracked. All of this information is being collected, organized, and used for all kinds of purposes, good and bad."
So how do we as consumers fight this? Schneier says that we're of course free to boycott establishments that use scanners, and that someday we may even see some bars advertised as offering anonymous drinking, as an alternative to places that collect and record information about your drinking habits. "You're basically screwed, because if you don't let them scan your license, they make you leave, or won't serve you. The courts and the ballot box are a better way to fight this matter. Talking to the employees won't make a difference because, as you said, it's company policy. They're going to do it because it's company policy, and since the decision about scanning is made far away from the point where it happens, you're not going to get anywhere."
Schneier recommended his The Future of Privacy essay, and this piece on license plate scanners for further reference in the matters we discussed.
An issue of civil liberties
Bruce Schneier suggested I contact that American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), so I did. I received a response from Jay Stanley, the public education director of the ACLU's technology and liberty program. Here's what he had to say:
"This is certainly a violation of our privacy/civil liberties. It is a violation of the principle that personal information collected for one purpose should not be used for other purposes without an individual's affirmative, fully informed permission. The fact that you provide information to prove you are complying with drinking-age laws should not require you to give up other personal information about yourself, and to be tracked.
Personally when I am asked for a driver's license for various reasons (age-verification being an increasingly rare occurrence for me), I watch carefully to make sure that it is not scanned and am not afraid to challenge, ask sharp questions if I have to.
At the same time, there is only so much the individual can do, for example if such scanning is widespread or if you're not in a position to walk out on a place whose practices you don't like. This is just one of many examples we are seeing today of novel privacy violations due to the growth of technology. Ultimately, our country needs good privacy laws implementing the "use limitation" principle I mentioned above and the other well-established basic principles of privacy, which every other industrialized nation around the world has enacted through overarching privacy legislation.
Does it really work?
Currently, the best way to visually identify a valid driver's license is to view the holographic image embedded on the front face of the ID card. If you can't see it well enough by tilting the card at an angle, you can easily see the image with a blacklight. Many bartenders do have a small blacklight behind the bar exactly for this purpose. But the holographic image can be faked -- or more accurately, it can be suitably reproduced on a counterfeit ID. It is not easy to do this, and requires sophisticated printing technology that few civilians have easy access to, but you can buy a fake ID on the Internet or in person that will reproduce the holographic technology.
IntelliCheck offers little information about its technology on its Web site -- probably because it isn't terribly complicated to read a card, verify its data in a database, and print a message. In its "fast facts" PDF, IntelliCheck's only technical point in its list of advantages is, "Our patented technology reads, verifies and parses the information encoded on issued drivers licenses, identification cards and military IDs with magnetic stripes, one- and two-dimensional bar codes and smart chips." So we are to assume that the magic that makes electronic ID verification solutions more secure and accurate is contained in the bar codes and magnetic strip. Since bar codes are optically read, they can easily be visually reproduced, and since they're in standard, documented formats like PDF417 that have freely available encoders and decoders, they can also easily be hacked. You can make a bar code record anything you want -- including that you're of legal drinking age. That means that any electronic scanning solution that provides simple feedback will be defeated by hacked bar codes. Scanning solutions that involve authentication against a remote database can also be easily hacked -- you can simply use someone else's (valid) data in your bar code. Don't think you can defeat this by erasing the strip or drawing a black line through the bar code -- defacing your license is against the law in the state of Florida (and probably everywhere else, too), and you face a $100 fine if a police officer discovers that your license is not in good condition.
The restaurant managers at Houstons and their superiors at Hillstone told me that they had the utmost confidence that the IntelliCheck devices they used were totally safe and effective, but could not tell me who stores the driver's license data, or how it is transferred. All of them also denied that any data is recorded, but the IntelliCheck IDC1400 that they use is designed to permanently record driver's license data. In fact, all of IntelliCheck's current devices except one have the capacity to permanently store ID data, and some are designed solely for this purpose. According to Bruce Schneier, if the device reads and transmits data, it's recording it in some way, even if it's not kept on record. Furthermore, whatever entity is in charge of the driver's license database is likely recording when and where a license is verified because some electronic ID verification companies list the elimination of duplicates (multiple simultaneous or successive verifications, indicating a possible duplicated ID) as a feature.
There are many ways to work around or defeat this technology, some of them new (hacking the magnetic strip and bar code data), some of them old (having someone else buy the drink for you). There is no evidence to suggest that total reliance on devices like the ones produced by IntelliCheck and other vendors is any more effective than visual verification of IDs, and in theory could actually be much worse. When I was in Philadelphia last year, two bars I visited had a bouncer at the door scanning IDs with a handheld device. Neither of the bouncers were looking at the photos or other information on the licenses they were scanning -- people could have been handing them someone else's ID for all they knew. Neither did the waitresses at Houstons visually compare my photo and my actual appearance -- I could have given the bouncers or the waitress my older brother's ID for all they knew. It would have verified and been recorded, and had I been underage, I would have had a drink illegally and the bar would still have been at fault despite the use of electronic license scanners. So much for being safe -- a license scanner can't defeat the oldest of underage drinking tricks.
The long fingers of prohibition
Even if I were underage and used my older brother's ID and the waitress had checked the photo, who would know besides me (and possibly him)? There is enough of a family resemblance, and driver's ID photos are notoriously bad and barely representative of their subjects, that no bartender or even a police officer would be able to truly determine who I really am with an ID alone. When I was a teenager, friends over 18 used to let other people borrow their IDs to buy cigarettes all the time -- no one ever got caught. Security is a process of making easy attacks more difficult; it is not in the business of making things impossible, nor could it ever realistically be. Electronic license scanners will not stop underage drinking, and in effect could make the problem worse as they become more ubiquitous and bartenders and bouncers create logical shortcuts in their habits, scanning cards without looking at them. In situations where alcohol purchases involve little or no human interaction, such as at automated checkout lines in stores like Wal-Mart, the risk of underage alcohol sales through a totally electronic age verification process is greatly increased.
The current methods of license verification that most grocery stores use is to view a license and type its date of birth numbers into the register, which then approves or denies the alcohol sale depending on age. Again, because this is a tedious process, if you look old enough or if the date on your license makes you significantly older than 21, most cashiers just type in 11111 for the date to make it easier. There really is no substitute for proper inspection and scrutiny -- electronic devices may make this process quicker, but they don't make it more accurate or secure. Sometimes technology makes our work easier, and sometimes it makes it easier for us to be lazy.
The heart of the issue here is that prohibition doesn't work. Every little scheme to try to enforce an unreasonable drinking age restriction will be met with a workaround or hack. Someday there may be a fingerprint scheme to try to ensure that you and your ID refer to the same person, and I have no doubt that within six months from the start of that policy, there will be a prosthetic skin device that will allow you to fake your fingerprint. As long as there are laws that people want to break, there will be clever ways to break them. Even if the sale of alcohol were somehow totally prevented to people under 21, the home brewing of alcohol would increase dramatically, just as it did during all-ages prohibition in the early 20th century. But before both the government and private businesses make more of an effort to crack down on under-21 drinking, they will first make it less private for everyone and more profitable for themselves. So like both the ACLU and security expert Bruce Schneier suggested, perhaps the best way to deal with this for now is to avoid places like Houstons that scan driver's licenses, and hope that someday in the future we don't have to actively seek out an establishment that offers anonymous drinking.
That's not all:
"If you visit a lot of bars and restaurants, you've likely crossed paths with drivers license scanners — machines that supposedly verify that your license is valid. In actuality, many of these scanners are designed to record your license information in addition to verifying them, and those that authenticate against a remote database are creating a record of when and where you buy alcohol. Not only that, but they're not even particularly effective — the bar code on your license uses an open, documented standard and can be rewritten to change your age or picture. Collecting our driver's license information is one thing, but collecting data about our personal drinking habits is not only a violation of, according to the ACLU representative quoted in the article, privacy and civil liberties, but this 'drinking record' could also create problems for people in civil and criminal lawsuits as proof of alcohol purchases in DUI cases or evidence of alcoholism in divorce lawsuits."Link.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The other top candidate, Mike Huckabee, offers an even bolder tax-cutting plan than Mr. Bush did in 2000. Mr. Huckabee may speak in the populist tones favored by Democrats, but his policies are arguably the least populist of any candidate.[more]
Whatever its other pluses and minuses, his national sales tax, known as the Fair Tax, would undeniably increase the share of taxes paid by the middle class while cutting the share paid by the wealthy. If voters can just forget what he is saying, Mr. Huckabee is the candidate for those who think the country needs to stop soaking the rich.
From the New York Law Journal:
An upstate Supreme Court justice, who has not received a pay increase since he took office in 2001, plans to resign by the end of this month because of "the present unfortunate status of New York State's judiciary."
Oneida County Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Julian (See Profile) signaled his intention in a letter dated Dec. 30 to Governor Eliot Spitzer and distributed by e-mail to the state's 1,300 judges.
A major reason for that "unfavorable circumstance," Justice Julian told the governor, is the "continued failure of the New York State government to compensate the judiciary fairly and pursuant to a non-political methodology."
As for himself, Justice Julian, who earns $136,700 a year, wrote, "I am unwilling to further deplete my savings and reduce my lifestyle to continue in office."
He added, "I believe a number of other judges have retired prematurely because of this sorry situation."
Justice Julian said "merit selection proposals" put forward by the governor and others also had influenced his decision to leave because they rely on "isolated instances of judicial transgression" to give the governor, Legislature and chief judge "the unprecedented power to appoint the judiciary."
New York's judiciary, he wrote, is well qualified and "certainly not deserving of the implied disparagement because the facts refute the innuendos."
The last judicial raise went into effect in January 1999. For more than two years, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has been warning that the failure to enact a salary increase is compromising the judiciary's ability to attract and retain talented jurists. During that time, only one other judge has gone public in citing the lack of a raise as a reason for leaving the bench.
In 2006, County Court Judge Stewart A. Rosenwasser of Orange County announced his resignation, saying in a statement that he "did not foresee the sacrifices my service would impose on my family" when he took office (NYLJ, March 31, 2006).
A third judge, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman (See Profile), has publicly stated that, because of the prolonged impasse over judicial wages, she is actively seeking another job (April 3, 2007).
"We are hearing more and more judges who love their jobs and do not want to look at other options talking about looking at other options," Chief Administrative Judge Ann T. Pfau (See Profile) said in an interview yesterday. "It's worrisome. We certainly hope they don't leave in droves," but the inability to retain and attract top-caliber judges has "always been a concern."
"The failure to adopt a pay raise for 10 years has caused enormous problems for judges throughout the state," said Queens Justice Joseph G. Golia (See Profile), president of Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. But, he added, "it has created even more difficulties for judges living in New York City and its environs because the cost of living is greater in the metropolitan area.
Reluctance to Resign
Speaking privately, judges cite several reason why more judges have not left the bench despite the toll inflation has taken on the buying power of their salaries.
Without either capital or clients, judges do not have strong drawing power in the private sector, especially in New York City. In addition, judges for the most part are generalists and do not have skills highly valued in the private sector with the exception of appellate judges and those who have been assigned to the commercial division of Supreme Court.
Firms also may be reluctant to hire departing judges because of the possibility that judges remaining on the bench would have to recuse themselves from cases handled by the firm a former judge joins.
In addition, the potential for conflicts makes looking for a job with a firm "difficult and awkward," Justice Goodman said. Once a judge has any contact with a firm about future employment, it is best to err on the side of caution and recuse oneself from any cases handled by that firm, several judges said.
Justice Julian likewise declined to discuss his future plans for fear that such comments could violate the ethics rule barring judges from using their judicial office to advance private interests.
The potential loss or diminishment of pension benefits can also be a reason to remain on the bench, one judge said. However, another said that some judges are motivated to resign because if they die in office their spouses cannot collect pension benefits after their death.
In an interview, Justice Julian, 56, recounted how the impasse on raises had affected his family.
When he first took the bench, Justice Julian said, he realized his salary as a judge would be less than half of what he had earned in private practice as a plaintiff's personal injury lawyer.
In preparation for the change in his family's economic circumstances, he said, he had cut back on some expenses and built up assets to the point where he felt he could supplement his salary with the income they generated.
But in the last two or three years, he said, he has had to reduce his capital by 10 percent - in what he called a "very ugly syndrome" - to make ends meet. His term is scheduled to end in 2014.
Before his election to Supreme Court in 2000, Justice Julian in addition to his law practice served as a legislator in Oneida County for 23 years. His brother, Timothy J. Julian, was the mayor of Utica for two terms before being defeated in a re-election bid in November.
Mr. Rosenwasser, 55, described a similar experience. During his nearly seven years on the bench, he said he found himself depleting capital and increasing his loans.
"It made no sense to put my family in jeopardy so I could continue to wear a robe," he said.
Since leaving the bench, Mr. Rosenwasser has been a partner in five-lawyer Ostrer Rosenwasser, a litigation firm in Montgomery, N.Y.
Justice Goodman, 67, said she is exploring other opportunities because "I am way out on a limb - I have no savings, no investments - there is no way I can retire and live in New York City."
"I sold my vacation home, my car is 15 years old and I am $200,000 in debt to meet living expenses," she added.
New York Now 49th
With the last pay raise having gone into effect in 1999, the pay of judges in New York has dropped to 49th in the nation adjusted for inflation. In her latest proposal, Chief Judge Kaye has called for the salaries of state's judges to be tied to the salaries of federal judges (NYLJ, Jan. 4).
The current pay of federal District Court judges is $165,200. Under Chief Judge Kaye's proposal, the pay of Supreme Court justices would rise to that level with other judges' salaries being adjusted proportionately.
Federal district court judges are slated to get a 2.5 percent cost-of- living increase in the middle of this month, and bills have been moving in both houses of Congress to raise the pay of federal district court judges to $218,000. Federal judges have received cost-of-living adjustments in six of the last 14 years.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
"I am leaving this message for you because it appears I must leave sooner than I intended. I would have preferred to say this in person, but since I cannot, let me say it here."
G'Kar, Babylon 5
"Only the dead have seen the end of war."
This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits. And so, like G'Kar, I must say here what I would much prefer to say in person. I want to thank hilzoy for putting it up for me. It's not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn't hesitate to accept the charge. As with many bloggers, I have a disgustingly large ego, and so I just couldn't bear the thought of not being able to have the last word if the need arose. Perhaps I take that further than most, I don't know. I hope so. It's frightening to think there are many people as neurotic as I am in the world. In any case, since I won't get another chance to say what I think, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Such as it is.
"When some people die, it's time to be sad. But when other people die, like really evil people, or the Irish, it's time to celebrate."
Jimmy Bender, "Greg the Bunny"
"And maybe now it's your turn
To die kicking some ass."
Freedom Isn't Free, Team America
What I don't want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I'm dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren't going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.) I had a pretty good life, as I noted above. Sure, all things being equal I would have preferred to have more time, but I have no business complaining with all the good fortune I've enjoyed in my life. So if you're up for that, put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me. If you have it, throw 'Freedom Isn't Free' from the Team America soundtrack in; if you can't laugh at that song, I think you need to lighten up a little. I'm dead, but if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact.
"Our thoughts form the universe. They always matter."
Citizen G'Kar, Babylon 5
Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer. The ability to put my thoughts on (virtual) paper and put them where people can read and respond to them has been marvelous, even if most people who have read my writings haven't agreed with them. If there is any hope for the long term success of democracy, it will be if people agree to listen to and try to understand their political opponents rather than simply seeking to crush them. While the blogosphere has its share of partisans, there are some awfully smart people making excellent arguments out there as well, and I know I have learned quite a bit since I began blogging. I flatter myself I may have made a good argument or two as well; if I didn't, please don't tell me. It has been a great five-plus years. I got to meet a lot of people who are way smarter than me, including such luminaries as Virginia Postrel and her husband Stephen (speaking strictly from a 'improving the species' perspective, it's tragic those two don't have kids, because they're both scary smart.), the estimable hilzoy and Sebastian of Obsidian Wings, Jeff Goldstein and Stephen Green, the men who consistently frustrated me with their mix of wit and wisdom I could never match, and I've no doubt left out a number of people to whom I apologize. Bottom line: if I got the chance to meet you through blogging, I enjoyed it. I'm only sorry I couldn't meet more of you. In particular I'd like to thank Jim Henley, who while we've never met has been a true comrade, whose words have taught me and whose support has been of great personal value to me. I would very much have enjoyed meeting Jim.
Blogging put me in touch with an inordinate number of smart people, an exhilarating if humbling experience. When I was young, I was smart, but the older I got, the more I realized just how dumb I was in comparison to truly smart people. But, to my credit, I think, I was at least smart enough to pay attention to the people with real brains and even occasionally learn something from them. It has been joy and a pleasure having the opportunity to do this.
"It's not fair."
"No. It's not. Death never is."
Captain John Sheridan and Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5
"They didn't even dig him a decent grave."
"Well, it's not how you're buried. It's how you're remembered."
Cimarron and Wil Andersen, The Cowboys
I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?
I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.
On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.
"What an idiot! What a loser!"
Chaz Reingold, Wedding Crashers
"Oh and I don't want to die for you, but if dying's asked of me;
I'll bear that cross with honor, 'cause freedom don't come free."
American Soldier, Toby Keith
Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq. The simple explanation might be that I was simply stupid, and certainly I make no bones about having done some dumb things in my life, but I don't think this can be chalked up to stupidity. Maybe I was inconsistent in my beliefs; there are few people who adhere religiously to the doctrines of their chosen philosophy, whatever that may be. But I don't think that was the case in this instance either.
As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others. A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms. So there is a need for government to protect the people's rights. And one of the fundamental tools to do that is an army that can prevent outside agencies from imposing their rules on a society. A lot of people will protest that argument by noting that the people we are fighting in Iraq are unlikely to threaten the rights of the average American. That's certainly true; while our enemies would certainly like to wreak great levels of havoc on our society, the fact is they're not likely to succeed. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a need for an army (setting aside debates regarding whether ours is the right size at the moment). Americans are fortunate that we don't have to worry too much about people coming to try and overthrow us, but part of the reason we don't have to worry about that is because we have an army that is stopping anyone who would try.
Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you'll pardon the pun) live with that.
"It's all so brief, isn't it? A typical human lifespan is almost a hundred years. But it's barely a second compared to what's out there. It wouldn't be so bad if life didn't take so long to figure out. Seems you just start to get it right, and then...it's over."
Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5
I wish I could say I'd at least started to get it right. Although, in my defense, I think I batted a solid .250 or so. Not a superstar, but at least able to play in the big leagues. I'm afraid I can't really offer any deep secrets or wisdom. I lived my life better than some, worse than others, and I like to think that the world was a little better off for my having been here. Not very much, but then, few of us are destined to make more than a tiny dent in history's Green Monster. I would be lying if I didn't admit I would have liked to have done more, but it's a bit too late for that now, eh? The bottom line, for me, is that I think I can look back at my life and at least see a few areas where I may have made a tiny difference, and massive ego aside, that's probably not too bad.
"The flame also reminds us that life is precious. As each flame is unique; when it goes out, it's gone forever. There will never be another quite like it."
Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5
I write this in part, admittedly, because I would like to think that there's at least a little something out there to remember me by. Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world. But on a larger scale, for those who knew me well enough to be saddened by my death, especially for those who haven't known anyone else lost to this war, perhaps my death can serve as a small reminder of the costs of war. Regardless of the merits of this war, or of any war, I think that many of us in America have forgotten that war means death and suffering in wholesale lots. A decision that for most of us in America was academic, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, had very real consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Yet I was as guilty as anyone of minimizing those very real consequences in lieu of a cold discussion of theoretical merits of war and peace. Now I'm facing some very real consequences of that decision; who says life doesn't have a sense of humor?
But for those who knew me and feel this pain, I think it's a good thing to realize that this pain has been felt by thousands and thousands (probably millions, actually) of other people all over the world. That is part of the cost of war, any war, no matter how justified. If everyone who feels this pain keeps that in mind the next time we have to decide whether or not war is a good idea, perhaps it will help us to make a more informed decision. Because it is pretty clear that the average American would not have supported the Iraq War had they known the costs going in. I am far too cynical to believe that any future debate over war will be any less vitriolic or emotional, but perhaps a few more people will realize just what those costs can be the next time.
This may be a contradiction of my above call to keep politics out of my death, but I hope not. Sometimes going to war is the right idea. I think we've drawn that line too far in the direction of war rather than peace, but I'm a soldier and I know that sometimes you have to fight if you're to hold onto what you hold dear. But in making that decision, I believe we understate the costs of war; when we make the decision to fight, we make the decision to kill, and that means lives and families destroyed. Mine now falls into that category; the next time the question of war or peace comes up, if you knew me at least you can understand a bit more just what it is you're deciding to do, and whether or not those costs are worth it.
"This is true love. You think this happens every day?"
Westley, The Princess Bride
"Good night, my love, the brightest star in my sky."
John Sheridan, Babylon 5
This is the hardest part. While I certainly have no desire to die, at this point I no longer have any worries. That is not true of the woman who made my life something to enjoy rather than something merely to survive. She put up with all of my faults, and they are myriad, she endured separations again and again...I cannot imagine being more fortunate in love than I have been with Amanda. Now she has to go on without me, and while a cynic might observe she's better off, I know that this is a terrible burden I have placed on her, and I would give almost anything if she would not have to bear it. It seems that is not an option. I cannot imagine anything more painful than that, and if there is an afterlife, this is a pain I'll bear forever.
I wasn't the greatest husband. I could have done so much more, a realization that, as it so often does, comes too late to matter. But I cherished every day I was married to Amanda. When everything else in my life seemed dark, she was always there to light the darkness. It is difficult to imagine my life being worth living without her having been in it. I hope and pray that she goes on without me and enjoys her life as much as she deserves. I can think of no one more deserving of happiness than her.
"I will see you again, in the place where no shadows fall."
Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5
I don't know if there is an afterlife; I tend to doubt it, to be perfectly honest. But if there is any way possible, Amanda, then I will live up to Delenn's words, somehow, some way. I love you.
The good news for Sen. John McCain is that he suddenly looks pretty good to a Republican establishment eager to have somebody/anybody other than Mike Huckabee as its presidential standard bearer. The bad news is that this may not be a great year to be the establishment choice.Link.
In a campaign already punctuated by twists, this is one of the more ironic. Mr. McCain started out as an anti-establishment maverick in 2000, bucking party orthodoxy on campaign-finance reform and trying to stop establishment favorite George W. Bush. A year ago much of that same establishment embraced him as the best post-Bush bet -- then left him for dead last summer amid voter disapproval of his stands on Iraq and immigration and a meltdown of his campaign staff.
Now many party regulars, worried about Mr. Huckabee's inexperience in national security, frightened by his anti-Wall Street message, and fearful that his close identification with evangelicals will turn off mainstream voters, are in an anybody-but-Huckabee mood. And they have a new fondness for Mr. McCain.
Perhaps the best sign of that came over the weekend, when Mr. McCain's campaign released a list of "100 prominent Reagan administration alumni" who have endorsed him for president. The list was a who's who of the party's Reagan-era establishment, including three former secretaries of state -- George Shultz, Alexander Haig and Lawrence Eagleburger.
In fact, some savvy Republicans now think that the nomination suddenly has become Mr. McCain's to lose. Here's why:
In this analysis, Mr. Huckabee eventually should sink of his own weight, provided a good alternative is available. His Iowa victory figures to give him no particular bump in New Hampshire, where the evangelical support that helped him in Iowa actually may hurt him with the state's more secular rank and file. After that, he won't win the full support of evangelicals in Michigan's Jan. 15 primary; some will back Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who hails from Michigan.
Then, the thinking goes, Mr. Huckabee will be competitive in South Carolina's Jan. 19 primary, but he will fade afterward because of a lack of money and organization.
If that's the case, the question is: Who is the best alternative?
It is, of course, an exaggeration to think there is some formal "establishment" of powerful Republicans who meet in a back room to anoint a candidate. The establishment is more of a mind-set -- though Republican movers and shakers do have a history of coalescing behind one candidate early in the process.
One way to gauge the thinking of the Republican establishment is to look at where the big players have put money on the table. On that score, the message is clear: Until now the establishment has been betting big on Mr. Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, less so on Mr. McCain and not at all on Mr. Huckabee.
In nearly every major business group -- hedge funds and private equity, commercial banks, insurance, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and the securities industry -- executives gave most heavily to Messrs. Romney and Giuliani among Republican contenders through the first three quarters of the year, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In each case, Mr. McCain ranked third, and Mr. Huckabee was a footnote. In the case of hedge funds, the center reports no dollars for Mr. Huckabee.
Mr. Romney has been the favorite of many in the establishment because he is smart and conveys a carefully framed, mainstream-conservative message. The problem is that he is more respected than beloved among party regulars, many of whom came his way because they saw him as a competent winner. If his loss in Iowa is followed by a loss in New Hampshire, the "winner" label will be in peril, along with his support.
In the case of Mr. Giuliani, the questions are whether he is too much the anti-Huckabee -- that is, too far from the party's religious wing on the issues of abortion and gay rights -- and whether his strategy of virtually opting out of Iowa and New Hampshire and holding his fire until later in the primary schedule keeps him on the sidelines while the establishment looks elsewhere.
That leaves Mr. McCain. Pakistan has driven national-security concerns to the fore, playing to one of his strengths. In a year of dissatisfaction with the status quo, he benefits from having bucked the status quo on pork-barrel spending.
He now leads most polls in New Hampshire and, if he wins there, could well follow up by winning South Carolina and emerging as the main challenger to Mr. Giuliani in the 20 states holding primaries and caucuses Feb. 5.
He still has plenty of problems. Republican pollster Frank Luntz notes that he is hurt by the perception that he is soft on illegal immigration and insufficiently devoted to tax cuts, both of which Mr. Luntz calls "potent" issues. His staunch support for the war in Iraq, which looks better with the security situation improving there, could yet be a difficulty in a general election if things turn sour there again.
His more ironic problem is that he has done best in this campaign when he lost establishment support and began campaigning again as a maverick loner. In a year when "change" is the magic word for voters, could being the establishment favorite actually hurt?
Suppose you had just received one of the most important opportunities in opinion journalism: a regular op-ed column in the New York Times. Suppose it was all the more important because it gave you a base in what would normally be considered enemy territory, right there alongside Paul Krugman and Frank Rich and the NYT's own editorials. Suppose your debut column came at a moment of peak political excitement, with the surprise of the Iowa caucuses just behind us and the New Hampshire primaries one day away.
In those circumstances, would this be the best you could come up with for the very first paragraphs of your very first column? It is what the new NYT columnist William Kristol has offered to introduce himself:Thank you, Senator Obama. You’ve defeated Senator Clinton in Iowa. It looks as if you’re about to beat her in New Hampshire. There will be no Clinton Restoration. A nation turns its grateful eyes to you.
But gratitude for sparing us a third Clinton term only goes so far. Who, inquiring minds want to know, is going to spare us a first Obama term? After all, for all his ability and charm, Barack Obama is still a liberal Democrat. Some of us would much prefer a non-liberal and non-Democratic administration. We don’t want to increase the scope of the nanny state, we don’t want to undo the good done by the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and we really don’t want to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory in Iraq.
I'm saying nothing about the content here. Indeed the subject -- how the GOP should run against Barack Obama -- is one on which readers would want to hear a well-connected Republican's views.
I am talking instead about the breathtaking banality of expression.
A single cliched phrase, like the last sentence of the first paragraph, can be effective. A whole string of cliches, like the second paragraph, is effective only in raising questions about the author's skill and quality of thought. The passage might serve as a test for prospective copy-editors. For instance: "What is avoidably awkward about the sentence beginning, 'After all, for all his ability..'?" Or, "How could the author express his thought without cliches?"
The other regulars on the Times op-ed page have their tics and strengths and weaknesses. But I have a hard time imagining any of them putting together this lazy a sequence of words. Dowd or Rich or Brooks? Not likely. Friedman? He uses catchphrases, but they're ones he invented himself. I won't go on through the whole list. (The hardest case might seem to be Bob Herbert, but if his political outlook is consistent or predictable, depending on your taste, sentence by sentence his writing is much better than this.) I will emphasize that the columnist most like Kristol in his background as a political operative, William Safire, was obviously very different in his attentiveness to the means of expression.
Perhaps this is more proof of a cunning, leftist NYT master plot? Bringing in a conservative who will demonstrate that conservatives have little interesting to say? Inquiring minds want to know. But only time will tell.
Another point of view:
Bill Kristol's New York Times column debuted today. It included a factual error, attributing a Michael Medved quote to Michelle Malkin.Link with links.
That was an appropriate beginning, as Kristol will surely have the Times corrections desk working overtime. Kristol regularly twists facts as he strains to back up conservative talking points.
In 2003, he defended the prospects for the invasion of Iraq, wrongly asserting:There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's been almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular.He four years later, claiming "We’re not in a civil war. This is just not true."
He pretended he was not being "partisan" when he attacked Speaker Nancy Pelosi for meeting with Syrian leaders, yet he did not criticize the Republican congresspeople who did the same.
He falsely characterized Iraq war boosters Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack, as "skeptics," in an attempt to give their optimistic assessments greater credibility.
And he ridiculously claimed that the acts charged to Scooter Libby and Tom DeLay are not crimes.
The Times defended the hiring of Kristol, attributing criticism to "this weird fear of opposing views," calling critics "intolerant," while praising Kristol as "a serious, respected conservative intellectual."
Debate between opposing views on America's op-ed pages is great, when opposing views are rooted in facts.
Kristol is not a respected conservative intellectual with reverence for facts. He is a conservative hack who will say anything to make his point.
Critics are intolerant. Not of opposing views, but of misinformation.
The Times is not promoting honest, informed debate by hiring Kristol. His little error today is a harbinger of more egregious hackery to come.
The lone upside to letting Kristol fail upwards? It will only serve to remind us all how much of the Beltway conservative movement is based on misinformation, and how empty their arguments have become.
What happened? War Room has a recap. Salon has a woman's view (God, that sounds awful!).
Greenwald has the Big Media press' mendacity. Ditto FAIR.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
A Family Court properly granted primary physical custody of a child to his father after the mother went through a period of absence and upheaval starting with her tour of duty in Iraq, an upstate appeals court has determined.Link (maybe...).
Tanya Towne's stint in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 was validly considered as part of a sequence of events that resulted in her former husband, Richard S. Diffin Jr., gaining primary physical custody of their son, an Appellate Division, Third Department, panel concluded last week.
"The fact remains that the mother was deployed and, while we do not hold that her deployment in and of itself constitutes a significant change in circumstances, we must consider the consequences of her extended absence in determining whether such a change exists," Presiding Justice Anthony V. Cardona wrote for the unanimous court in Diffin v. Towne, 502429.
The decision will be published Thursday.
Before her deployment by the Army National Guard, Ms. Towne had primary physical custody of the son, Derrell, who was born in 1995. Ms. Towne and the boy were living at the home of Ms. Towne's second husband, Jason Towne, with whom she had had a second son. Ms. Towne wanted Derrell to live with Mr. Towne and her other son, but Mr. Diffin secured a temporary custody order to have Derrell live with him in Virginia while Ms. Towne was in Iraq.
When Ms. Towne petitioned Family Court in Montgomery County for restoration of the original custody arrangement upon her return from Iraq late in 2005, Mr. Diffin contested it. In addition to the separation caused by Ms. Towne's tour of duty, Mr. Diffin noted that Ms. Towne separated from Mr. Towne when she returned to the United States and moved out of the home where Derrell lived when Ms. Towne had primary physical custody of the boy.
SIBEL EDMONDS SPEAKS TO UK SUNDAY TIMES: SAYS U.S. OFFICIALS INVOLVED IN RELEASE OF NUKE SECRETS TO TURKEY, PAKISTAN, IRAN, OTHERS, POSSIBLY EVEN AL-QAEDALink.
Former 'Gagged' FBI Whistleblower Alleges Pentagon, State Department Officials Overheard Receiving Payoffs in Exchange for Classified Info; Crimes Covered Up at Highest Levels of Government
U.S. Media Scooped Again, Failed to Air Claims After Offer of Disclosure by Edmonds in Recent BRAD BLOG Exclusives... [UPDATED SEVERAL TIMES]
-- By Brad Friedman
[Updated --- now several times --- with a number of significant items, additional info, background, reaction and analysis from around the blogosphere, all at the end of the article.]
Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI translator who has been under a Bush administration gag order for the past 5 years, has now begun to disclose some of the classified information she has been prohibited from revealing.
"A WHISTLEBLOWER has made a series of extraordinary claims about how corrupt government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to steal nuclear weapons secrets," reports Great Britain's Sunday Times in the lede of their front page exclusive, headlined "For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets."
In the article, just filed tonight, Edmonds reveals details overheard on wiretaps she translated during her time at the FBI, just after 9/11. Her disclosures to the Times reveal a maze of nuclear black market espionage involving U.S. Defense and State Department officials, that resulted in the sale and propagation of nuclear secrets to Turkish and Israeli interests. In turn, that information was then sold to Pakistan and used by A.Q. Kahn for development of nuclear weapons. The secrets were subsequently proliferated to Iran, Libya, North Korea, and potentially al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, just weeks prior to September 11th, 2001.
The explosive allegations, shared with the Sunday Times over the last several weeks, follow on the heels of two reports published late last year by The BRAD BLOG, based on our own exclusive interviews with Edmonds.
While not everything Edmonds has to reveal is reported by the Times tonight, the foreign paper's front-page feature underscores, yet again, the failure of the U.S. mainstream media to adequately report on issues of extraordinary importance to American national security.
In late October, Edmonds had told The BRAD BLOG she was prepared to reveal the information to any major U.S. broadcast media outlet, after feeling that she had exhausted all efforts to see the disturbing information properly investigated by U.S. Government agencies. She had, in fact, spent years in classified interviews with high-ranking officials from the FBI, DoJ, 9/11 Commission and both houses of the U.S. Congress, in hopes of seeing accountability brought concerning the issues of national security, which the DoJ's own Inspector General had described as "credible," "serious," and "warrant[ing] a thorough and careful review by the FBI."
Despite broken promises for hearings on her case by U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), support from Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and a number of mainstream exposés several years ago detailing aspects of her story before she was willing to break her unprecedented "States Secrets Privilege" gag order, none of the American broadcast media outlets took her up on her offer.
"She has now decided to divulge some of that information after becoming disillusioned with the US authorities' failure to act," reports the Sunday Times tonight...
In our mid-November follow-up article, the legendary 1970's whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg had excoriated the U.S. media for their failure to cover the story, even as Edmonds was risking jail in order to expose crimes and massive corruption, allegedly, in the highest levels of the government. At the time, Ellsberg told us that he believed the information she had been forced by the Administration to withhold "is far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers."
Ellsberg is known for having released thousands of pages of top-secret Defense Department documents, concerning America's involvement in Vietnam, to the New York Times in 1971, in what became a landmark whistleblower case.
"I can tell the American public exactly what it is, and what it is that they are covering up," Edmonds had promised in our October article. But it was, in fact, a UK media outlet that finally took up the Turkish-born, American citizen's offer for the whistleblower interview. The result is the release of explosive details on at least one aspect of the U.S. national security-related secrets that she is now willing to disclose.
"What I found was damning," Edmonds tells the Times about the information she learned while at the FBI concerning the nuclear blackmarket activities and proliferation of several government agencies, including her own unit at the FBI. "While the FBI was investigating, several arms of the government were shielding what was going on."
Among the newly disclosed information from Edmonds, in the extraordinary front-page Times article tonight:
● Foreign intelligence agents from Turkey, Israel and Pakistan enlisted the support of high-level US officials in order to acquire a network of moles deep inside of sensitive American military and nuclear agencies, including "PhD students – with security clearance [at] Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New Mexico, which is responsible for the security of the US nuclear deterrent."
● Members of the diplomatic community were given lists of potential "moles" at the sensitive installations. Edmonds tells the Times: "the lists contained all their 'hooking points', which could be financial or sexual pressure points, their exact job in the Pentagon and what stuff they had access to."
● Well-known US officials were then bribed by foreign agents to steal US nuclear secrets. One such incident from 2000 involves an agent overheard on a wiretap discussing "nuclear information that had been stolen from an air force base in Alabama," in which the agent allegedly is heard saying: "We have a package and we’re going to sell it for $250,000."
● Nuclear secrets were then subsequently sold by foreign agents to America's enemies, including Iran, North Korea and Libya.
● Pakistani officials involved in the nuclear black market network have significant cross-over with al-Qaeda and 9/11. Officials such as the chief of ISI, Pakistan's spy agency, allegedly sent $100,000 to 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, and aides of A.Q. Kahn --- who had used the stolen secrets to develop nuclear weapons for Pakistan --- met with Osama bin Laden "weeks before 9/11...to discuss an Al-Qaeda nuclear device."
● Elements of the US government have repeatedly shut down investigations into these crimes under the guise of protecting "certain diplomatic relations."
● The US government has been aware of all of the above information since at least 2001.
Read the Times' full article for many more disturbing details and connected dots.
But we can add to at least one item of note in their report, concerning an unnamed "well-known senior official in the US State Department," allegedly heard to have received bribes as part of the network. According to the paper:
Among the hours of covert tape recordings, she says she heard evidence that one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan.
The name of the official – who has held a series of top government posts – is known to The Sunday Times. He strongly denies the claims.
However, Edmonds said: “He was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.”
She claims that the FBI was also gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials – including household names – who were aiding foreign agents.
"In one conversation Edmonds heard the official arranging to pick up a $15,000 cash bribe."
Edmonds said: “I heard at least three transactions like this over a period of 2½ years. There are almost certainly more.”
While that "well-known senior" State Department official is not named by the paper, Australia's Luke Ryland, who writes at a number of sites as "Lukery", is perhaps the world's foremost expert concerning the Sibel Edmonds story. Ryland has told The BRAD BLOG that the official, unnamed by the Times, is Marc Grossman.
Grossman was the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey ('94-'97), the Asst. Sec. of State for European Affairs ('97-'00) and served under Colin Powell and Richard Armitage at the State Department from 2001 to 2005 as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. He's currently employed as the Vice Chairman of the D.C. and China-based consulting firm, The Cohen Group, founded by the former Republican Defense Secretary for Bill Clinton, William S. Cohen.
"The Cohen Group provides global business consulting services and advice on tactical and strategic opportunities in virtually every market," advertises the firm on the front page of their website.
Additional information on a related angle of Grossman's alleged involvement in these matters was reported by the prolific Ryland in 2006, on his blog, WotIsItGood4.
"The senior official in the State Department [who] no longer works there" offered the Times this non-denial denial of Edmonds' allegations: "If you are calling me to say somebody said that I took money that’s outrageous," he reportedly said. "I do not have anything to say about such stupid ridiculous things as this."
Apparently, he also doesn't have anything to say, along the lines of "I never took any such money, or did any such thing," either.
"In researching this article, The Sunday Times has talked to two FBI officers (one serving, one former) and two former CIA sources who worked on nuclear proliferation," the paper writes. "While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story."
In a 15-page 2005 exposé in Vanity Fair, concerning yet another, if perhaps-related, aspect of Edmonds' allegations, British reporter David Rose detailed charges of nearly $500,000 in bribes from Turkish interests, said to have been prepared for former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). His attorney has denied those allegations, though, in another BRAD BLOG exclusive, Edmonds challenged specific details of the denial. Hastert recently resigned from Congress, sparking speculation for his sudden departure after reports by ABC News in 2006, that he was under DoJ investigation for bribery charges related to convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
In our October story, Edmonds had told us that, in addition to Hastert, she was prepared to name and give details of corruption involving at least "two other well-known" members of Congress. She told us at the time that they are both Republicans from the U.S. House and "one of them is recently no longer there."
For more details on the Edmonds case, in an easy to read primer, see "What The Heck is the Sibel Edmonds Case Anyway? And Why Should You Care About It?", a recent BRAD BLOG item based, in part, on the reporting of Ryland.
Whether the Sunday Times story tonight will give permission to the U.S. corporate media to finally pick up the story, and cover the many still-unreported aspects of Edmonds' charges, remains to be seen.
If any of them wish to contact us, we'll be happy, as we've offered many times, to help put them in contact with her.
As our friend Joseph Cannon mentions tonight, in relation to our coverage of the at least 4-years-overdue New York Times Magazine's Sunday cover story on the disaster of e-voting: "Journalism delayed is journalism denied."
UPDATE 12:06pm PT: Several notable reactions, furtherances of today's Sunday Times front page stunner...
● As usual, Luke Ryland offers tons of info, analysis, links and background in his dKos coverage (cross-posted at Let Sibel Edmonds Speak). Just a couple of the notable passages offering additional context on the story, from his coverage today:
The Times article then notes something that I reported 18 months ago. Immediately after 911, the FBI arrested a bunch of people suspected of being involved with the attacks - including four associates of key targets of FBI's counterintelligence operations. Sibel heard the targets tell Marc Grossman: "We need to get them out of the US because we can’t afford for them to spill the beans." Grossman duly facilitated their release from jail and the suspects immediately left the country without further investigation or interrogation.
Let me repeat that for emphasis: The #3 guy at the State Dept facilitated the immediate release of 911 suspects at the request of targets of the FBI's investigation.
high-level Pentagon officials were maintaining 'dossiers' on the sexual and financial proclivities of their underlings in order to be able to blackmail them.
I know that many of you have been (rightly) concerned about FISA, and many of you have (rightly) been confused by the inexplicable behaviour of Democrats in Congress, and wonder why they behave as though they are being blackmailed.
Now you know.
● Rightwing blogger and "9/11 conspiracy theory debunker", Pat Curley, a previous --- and we would add, irresponsible --- critic of Edmonds' at ScrewLooseChange, offers what can only be seen as an ersatz apology for his previous coverage, in his item on today's news. Still, we note he has yet to retract, or issue a specific apology to Edmonds, for comments made in his previous irresponsible coverage. Given the focus of the Screw Loose Change site, we'd think journalistic integrity would be paramount, and that he'd add a retraction/apology to his previous coverage, if he's actually had the change of heart today's post would seem to indicate.
● Blogger Joseph Cannon describes the piece as a "BOMBSHELL!" and offers additional details on Pakistan's ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad --- who is central to the Times story, and Edmonds allegations --- including his relationship to both al-Qaeda, and a very cozy relationship with the neo-Cons in D.C. Writes Cannon:
Get the picture? Valerie Plame was trying to stop Khan in his tracks. But Armitage stopped Valerie Plame in her tracks. Armitage and his neocon comrades are good buddies with Mehmood Ahmad, who was engineering this trade in nukes.
● And, speaking of the Plame angle, her former CIA classmate, former CIA analyst Larry Johnson of NoQuarter notes this, about Edmonds claims of payoffs to Grossman, Hastert and others, in his coverage this morning:
The role that foreign money and intelligence officers have played in U.S. politics is not a Sibel Edmonds fantasy. The woman is simply trying to tell folks what she heard. This matter needs to be investigated. I do not believe that Sibel is making up what she heard.
UPDATE 1:14pm PT: Further reaction from the 'sphere...
● Our friend, RAW STORY investigative journalist, Larisa Alexandrovna, a longtime expert on this particular foreign affairs/nuclear black market beat, adds some thoughts and details on her at-Largely blog (and also cross-posted to Huffington Post.)
She too confirms the unnamed State Dept. official from the story to be Marc Grossman, and writes: "The Times could have published the name and also provided the denial from Grossman's camp. I find it incredibly disturbing that they would not name the official."
Noting that her source for this information is not Edmonds, she also adds the following about some of the other unnamed officials referred to in the story:
Those senior DOD officials that are not mentioned the Times, all but one are no longer in government. They are alleged to be Doug Feith, Richard Perle, among others. There is also one person who is part of these allegations, still serving in a high level position at the DOD. His last name begins with an E.
...as she goes on to include this additional excoriation of the Times' unwillingness to name names, and of the dangers of outsourcing national security to the global marketplace:
That the Times ran these allegations (she is under a state secrets gag folks, so it is not like she is gagged for lying) is encouraging. But that they omitted all names from the allegations is unethical. The point of a free press is not to protect the powerful against the weak, but to protect the public from the powerful. The Times was willing to stick a toe in, but was not willing to risk upsetting a foreign government (This is, after all, a British paper).
There are more names, including members of Congress and people serving in the FBI. This is what happens when basic government services as well as the most sensitive government functions are outsourced to the global marketplace.
You can see why Edmonds had to be silenced for "diplomatic reasons." As though diplomatic (read: business) relationships are more important than national security.
UPDATE 11:38pm PT: More reaction and analysis coming in late tonight...
● Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com and a contributing editor for The American Conservative adds a great deal of linked context and background in his detailed coverage of the Times piece. He says of Edmonds allegations: "if true, it's the story of the decade."
He frames his article around last night's Presidential Debate, in which ABC's Charles Gibson asked the Democratic candidates a remarkable question, in light of the Edmonds allegations today. "The next president may have to deal with a nuclear attack," Gibson said. "The day after a nuclear weapon goes off in an American city, what would we wish we had done to prevent it and what will we actually do on the day after?"
None of the candidates rose to the occasion and most seemed baffled, writes Raimondo, who sums of the details of this whole sordid tale this way...
Corruption and a massive cover-up organized at the highest levels of government – America's nuclear secrets and technology looted on a massive scale, and sold to our enemies via a network set up by our alleged foreign "friends," while the threat of nuclear terrorism hangs over our country like a thick fog of fear, and warmongering politicians scare us into going along with the program – if even half of what Edmonds alleges turns out to be true, then we are all in some very big trouble.
...before closing with this eerie reminder...
As Edmonds says, "we have the facts, we have the documents, we have the witnesses. Put out the tapes, put out the documents, put out the intercepts – put out the truth."
If a nuke ever goes off in an American city, it will probably have been stolen from our own arsenal – once the American people wake up to that scary fact, the rest will follow automatically.
Ramaindo also reminds us of the following terrific video, put together by Luke Ryland last Summer, featuring Edmonds, in her own words, along with a few FBI colleagues, and Sen. Grassley singing her praises of "credibility" on 60 Minutes, from 2002. Well worth watching (less than 10 mins)...
UPDATE 1/7/08 8:35am PT: Sibel "names" names. She puts 21 photographs on her website without names. We put names to the faces. Details (and names) posted here on The BRAD BLOG...
UPDATE 1/7/08, 1:43pm PT: Over at Op/Ed News, Mike Mejia offers this additional information, concerning Grossman's ties to the Valerie Plame Wilson/Scooter Libby CIA leak case, in his coverage of the Times story...
Grossman, besides being a former policymaker at State, is known publicly as Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s first witness in the Scooter Libby trial. Libby was accused of perjury in the investigation of former CIA operative Valerie Plame, who was part of a CIA front company monitoring the global nuclear black market. At least one story claimed Grossman himself had leaked the identity of Plame’s front company, Brewster-Jennings, to Turkish agents in June, 2001. Though the story was never picked up by the mainstream media, if true, it would lead credence to the idea that the Brewster Jennings operation had already been compromised before the retaliation against Plame’s wife, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, by members of the Bush Administration.
Grossman is also being subpoenaed by the defense in the AIPAC espionage trial, along with several other officials who may have passed classified information to the powerful Israel-connected lobby group.
In addition, the Times article mentions Pentagon officials selling nuclear secrets to Turkey and Pakistan. AIPAC case figure Larry Franklin is discussed by Edmonds in the article. The whistleblower has suggested in separate interviews that Franklin’s supervisor at the Pentagon, Douglas Feith has been involved in the scandal, as well as prominent neoconservative and Feith associate Richard Perle.
UPDATE 1/7/08, 5:07pm PT: Former New York Times contributor, Dave Lindorff at Baltimore Chronicle, http://www.baltimorechro...8/010708Lindorff.shtml\">covers in detail, asks how Edmonds' story might tie in to the recent, and still unexplained, cross-country flyover of a B-52 with nuclear-tipped weapons on board, and closes by asking appropriately enough: "Meanwhile, there is enough in just this one London Times story to keep an army of investigative reporters busy for years. So why, one has to ask, is this story appearing in a highly respected British newspaper, but not anywhere in the corporate US media?"
Why, indeed, Dave.